In a story first reported by Brian Windhorst, Kyrie Irving has requested to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving’s reasoning includes “no longer wanting to play alongside LeBron James” and playing for a team “where he can be more of a focal point.”
For the sake of this website, news like this is typically of mere tangential interest, as Canis Hoopus is a Minnesota Timberwolves blog. Historically Minnesota has been a place that star players request to depart from, not join. The Jimmy Butler era seems to have shifted the tide in the North.
ESPN Sources: On Kyrie Irving front, Cavs were given four preferred landing spots: New York, Miami, San Antonio, Minnesota.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 21, 2017
The Wolves have made Kyrie’s short-list of preferred destinations. Even if nothing else comes out of this news (likely), this is still a win for the Wolves who finally seem to possess something that resembles relevance.
However, it is important to remark that players can not choose where they are traded to. At most, they can influence. A relevant example: Paul George. George allegedly wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers but was not a free agent so he could not choose his destination. Thus, he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And while the Chris Paul trade maybe seems like a relevant example, it is important to note the leverage Paul held in the situation. Paul had one final year left on his contract, however, he had a player option on that year. Paul informed the Clippers brass that he was going to opt out of his deal and just sign outright in Houston. The Clippers responded by trading him so as to salvage some value.
And this brings us back to Kyrie who has three years —two years and a third-year player option—left on his contract, and thus minimal leverage. If an Irving trade happens, it will be to the team that has the most to offer.
What the Wolves Can Offer in a Trade for Irving
First off, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson CAN NOT be traded until December 15th. The league protects against players being signed and immediately moved through this provision.
We can also safely assume both Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are off the negotiation table. Trading for Butler only to reroute him elsewhere is non-sensical. As for Towns, he is simply a better piece who is on a better contract.
So that crosses off four of the Wolves top assets. Five if you remove the injured Justin Patton from the discussion.
Leaving Andrew Wiggins to possibly be the linchpin of a deal. It’s open to question whether Wiggins on his own would satisfy the Cavs, or whether the Wolves would consider such a deal. Outside of a slow progression into the league, the cost of Wiggins going forward—currently eligible for a five-year $148 million extension—would be factored in by both sides. If Minnesota can get back a great asset, in Irving, while avoiding paying that contract, that could have some appeal. And yet the Wolves seem absolutely committed to Wiggins as a core piece going forward, and being able to lock him up for that long is something they might prefer.
This brings us to the next best assets; Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones, the 2018 OKC first round pick (via Ricky Rubio trade with Utah).
Dieng, along with the $14 million he’s due this year, would be key in making the salaries match up in a deal. For a trade to be executed the two teams outgoing and incoming salaries must be 85 percent of each other. Other options for salary fodder would be Nemanja Bjelica and/or Cole Aldrich.
I think, as of right now, the inclusion of both Dieng and Jones in addition to Wiggins makes the most sense. Cleveland would likely try to additionally snag the 2018 OKC 1st. If Cleveland’s asking price was even higher than Wiggins+Dieng+Jones+’18 OKC 1st, the Wolves could add one of their own firsts to sweeten the pot. But due to trading their 2018 first for Adreian Payne, the earliest first Minnesota can trade is 2020. Minnesota has their 2018 and 2020 second round picks they can trade, also Miami’s 2019 second.
Assets in Consideration with Potential Irving Trade:
-2018 OKC 1st
-2020 MIN 1st
-2018 MIN 2nd
-2019 MIA 2nd
-2020 MIN 2nd
If I am in charge of the Wolves decision making any and all of those assets are on the table for Irving. In a bidding war, I could be convinced to dump all of them. Irving is that much better than Wiggins. Not only is he a better player but additionally he is on a less daunting contract—2 years and $39 million, assuming he opts out of year three. In a Wiggins for Irving swap, the Wolves not only receive more talent but also more flexibility to piece a roster together around in future years.
What are you willing to give up for Kyrie Irving?